Today, the Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) submitted a letter to President Biden supporting the public release of records on December 15, 2022, by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), as consistent with the PIDB’s previous letter to the President of September 27, 2021, which recommended that the President limit any further certifications for postponement of public disclosures under the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act (JFK Act) to the absolute minimum.
As reported by NARA, the most recent release of JFK Act records amounts to 13,173 documents, leaving 515 documents withheld in full and another 2,545 withheld in part, pursuant to President Biden’s “Memorandum on Certification Regarding Disclosure of Information in Certain Records Related to the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy.” The PIDB’s letter applauds the president’s stipulation in that memorandum that any further withholding of these records beyond June 30, 2023, “shall be limited to the absolute minimum under the statutory standard.” In support of that deadline, the letter says that the PIDB will conduct a review of a sample of the remaining classified records to better understand why they remain classified beyond June 30, 2023, consistent with the statutory standard and pursuant to the criteria established in the president’s memorandum.
In particular, the PIDB’s letter states that requirements in Section 7 of the President’s memorandum represent an important step forward for the release of JFK Act records. Section 7 requires agencies reviewing the remaining JFK Act records certified for postponed release to prepare “Transparency Plans” for the National Declassification Center (NDC) at NARA “to ensure that information would continue to be disclosed over time as the identified harm associated with release of the information dissipates.” These transparency plans are to detail “event-based or circumstance-based conditions that will trigger the public disclosure of currently postponed information” by the NDC at NARA.
The PIDB’s letter further asks the President to apply these requirements as an example of standards to promote transparency across the federal government for all newly created categories of classified information in order to lessen future resource-intensive difficulties that have materialized with the JFK Act records. Such transparency plans and triggering conditions would address the growing imbalance between the limited resourcing of the records management system and the expansion of the national security community that is the unique strength of the American system: the assumption that all acts of the government will ultimately be subject to public scrutiny.
The PIDB’s letter to President Biden is accessible on the PIDB’s website, at: https://www.archives.gov/files/pidb/recommendations/pidb-potus-letter-jfk-records-01.06.2023-final-pdf.pdf.